After Ivanka Trump speech fiasco, Golden says WSU and WSU Tech need better coordination



At a virtual town hall on Monday, Wichita State University President Jay Golden said the university needs to have better coordination with WSU Tech after the cancelation of Ivanka Trump’s commencement speech. Both the original announcement and the cancelation were met with community backlash.

After WSU Tech announced and then canceled a virtual commencement speech from Ivanka Trump last week, Wichita State President Jay Golden said the two schools must be better coordinated.

“They have our brand,” he said on Monday at a virtual town hall. “What happens there affects us; what we do affects them.”

The decision to cancel the speech came after WSU community members criticized the decision, including in an open letter that garnered about 500 digital signatures. Only a graduating student gave a speech during commencement, and students had the option to hear prerecorded messages from more than 30 speakers, including Ivanka Trump.

Golden said the WSU community’s critical response to Ivanka Trump’s selection as a keynote speaker “wasn’t just a few, loud voices. This was a very vocal group.”

But backlash against the decision to cancel Ivanka Trump’s speech has been just as fierce, he said.

“To me, that just exemplifies … the state of our nation right now, where we can’t have personal conversations through dialogue,” he said. “Where it’s dominated by extreme parts of the country, and by media and social media.”

Over the weekend, news of the fiasco reached major U.S. news outlets, including CNN, Fox News, The New York Times, Forbes and The Washington Examiner. Pundits and politicians on both sides of the aisle used the incident as fodder for their latest commentaries.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former Republican U.S. congressman from Wichita, said in a statement on Sunday that WSU missed the chance to showcase itself to the rest of the nation. He and Ivanka Trump visited WSU Tech’s National Center for Aviation Training in October.

“The losers here are freedom of thought, the students and the central idea of universities as places of tolerance and learning,” he said.

Mike Pompeo and Ivanka Trump stand with WSU aviation students during a tour of WSU Tech on Oct. 24.
Mike Pompeo and Ivanka Trump stand with WSU aviation students during a tour of WSU Tech on Oct. 24. (FILE PHOTO/MORGAN ANDERSON)

In a statement on Thursday night, WSU Tech President Sheree Utash said Ivanka Trump offered to record a congratulatory message for graduates in February. Utash serves on the American Workforce Policy Advisory board, where she has worked closely with Ivanka Trump.

“In light of the social justice issues brought forth by George Floyd’s death, I understand and take responsibility that the timing of the announcement was insensitive,” she said.

Golden said it’s important for WSU to uphold “diversity of thought,” especially with a national election coming up in November. He said he also wants to make WSU faculty more diverse to better match the student population and make sure that the university’s free speech policies protect civil discourse.

“We will be a university that encourages discussions, debates, lectures of people with divergent thoughts,” he said. “Many of these conversations will be uncomfortable. They won’t be in a situation where they’re disrespectful or threatening, but we need to make sure that we really uphold that diversity of thought as a university.”

“This though, was about the students and the graduation.”

WSU Tech, formerly the Wichita Area Technical College, formed an affiliation with WSU in 2018. WSU and KBOR share “operational governance” over WSU Tech, though the technical school is officially a separate degree-granting institution.

Golden said WSU Provost Rick Muma was already working with WSU Tech administrators to form a better understanding and alignment between the two schools.

Moving forward, Golden said the university will pre-approve all commencement speakers and needs to have a “risk management plan or organization and process.”